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Bosso, Majaivana and other taboos

30 May 2017 at 04:24hrs | Views
A number of political philosophers and sociologists of the Global South have noted how sport and religion were used by colonialists to divert the minds and energies of natives from politics.

Of religion Karl Marx wrote in 1843 that "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world, it is the opium of the people" that the masses use to release bottled up anger and pain, as a means of political relief and psychological escape from the real and cruel world.

The slaves in the plantations sang hymns and recited verses, they performed dances and participated in a multiplicity of rites and rituals. The Negro Spirituals that the slaves wailed in the plantations of America evolved into present day Reggae music, Jazz, Hip Hop and the Blues. If the enslavers and colonisers meant to calm and domesticate the enslaved and the colonised with religion the strategy backfired as the oppressed peoples tend to turn religion and religious songs into potent cultural and spiritual tools of protest, resistance and mobilisation.

Similarly, sports and other competitions were encouraged by enslavers and colonisers as a way to arrest the minds and bodily energies of the oppressed, to keep them engrossed in exhausting competition but away from aspirations of freedom and power. Through the creativity and courageous innovation of the oppressed sports were adopted, adapted and used as an instrument of protest and a venue for cultural and political mobilisation. In panic reaction, enslavers and colonisers resorted to cultural censorship, banning certain songs and restricting slaves and natives from certain sports, especially those that appeared warlike.

Throughout the world, sport, music, dance, drama and other performances have graduated from simple articles of leisure and recreation to potent instruments of culture, politics and spirituality. Consciously and unconsciously, populations have put political, cultural and spiritual investment in activities that began as games and play. Today I write about how Highlanders Football Club and a musician Lovemore Majaivana became more than a sporting and a singing and dancing outfit through societal cultural and political investments.

Highlanders FC: History, Politics and Culture Highlanders Football Club was never formed as a team for recreation and luxury for sport and competition in the very first place. Football was just one of its activities among many. The club was formed by two of King Lobhengula's grandsons, Rhodes and Albert, the sons of prince Njube. The angry grandsons of the king had been adopted by white Empire builders and missionaries and taken to South Africa to be educated and oriented away from their history and sensibility as princes.

To concretise the defeat of their grandfather and symbolise their new status as subjects of the British Empire one was named after Cecil John Rhodes himself and the other after Albert Schweitzer the French-German missionary, medical doctor and musician. Naming the grandsons of the fallen king after the new conquerors was meant to rub in the defeat and humiliate the princes, empty them of all dignity and ambition.

When the humiliated and angry princes formed the Lions Football Club in 1926, in Makokoba, Bulawayo, it was in political and cultural protest. The Ndebele Amabutho had effectively been disbanded, only their songs and dances were remembered and were sung when the team was playing. War songs such as "AbeNguni Babebulala oBaba" were taken from the Ndebele impis and deployed on the sidelines of football matches. This was pure political, cultural and spiritual sublimation. What could not be said or done in the political arena and the battlefield was vented in the soccer field.

In 1936, the Lions Football Club changed to Matabeleland Highlanders but kept the black and white colours that the team adopted from the dress and shields of Amawaba, King Lobhengula's personal regiment. The Amawaba were also called "inqaba" or fortress in reference to their role as the King's last line of defence. Up to this day, "Siyinqaba" is the slogan and battle cry of Highlanders Football Club.

Many followers and supporters of this team are not aware that it began as a symbolic and ceremonial royal regiment, not just a football club.

Amawaba or Amajaha were not every day soldiers, their regiment was an elite unit that performed parades and displays, ukugiya, during national ceremonies, they were seen only during big gatherings and big feasts, hence the name Amahlolanyama.

Amawaba were feared even by other regiments as they took instructions directly from the king, their training and preparation (Ukutshwama) were more secretive and part of the mystery of royal secrecy. A few of the Amawaba became some of the warriors that had access to and carried guns. The Ndebele oath "Ngifunga ULobhengula wamaWaba," a grave oath, arose from the military

gravitas of the regiment.

The Amawaba were compared to an army of beautiful black and white birds, Amahlolanyama that hunters understood as a sign and portend of great hunts to come. In the Ndebele civil war where Mbiko KaMadlenya and others attempted to prevent Lobhengula from succeeding Mzilikazi the Amawaba lived up to their name and defended the king while other regiments were in sixes and sevens, divided between supporters of Lobhengula and those that wanted Nkulumane to be sought and found.

Amahlolanyama became the traditional name of Highlanders Football Club that had become a symbolic and cultural regiment on which the population sublimated and invested its cultural, spiritual and political energies. Clearly, Highlanders Football Club, from its provenances became entangled in history, culture and politics and became a sign and symbol of the Ndebele nation militant nationalism in the face of colonialism and the cultural imperialism of the settlers. It is in Highlanders that the nostalgia of the days of power and glory feeds and animates itself, making the team not just an entity of sport and recreation but a heritage and a monument. For the Ndebele cultural, political and spiritual community Highlanders is a fetish, in loss or in victory in the football field. Even today, the new found nickname, "Ithimu yezwe lonke" is a continuation of tapping into the history of the royal family, just like King Mzilikazi was known for nation building, taking on board peoples of different cultures and identities.

Lovemore Majaivana and Taboo The gifted musician Lovemore Tshuma earned the name Majaivana from his "jive," a manner of jumping and dancing made out of an intricate play with his agile feet. Majaivana's songs also became more than entertainment as the singer went back to Ndebele history and retrieved songs such as "Sayiwela," the classic "Salanini Zinini" and "Umoya Wami." In his adaptation and deployment of ancient Ndebele songs Majaivana recovered from the Ndebele traditional archive some war, hunting and ceremonial songs that the colonial cultural invasion tried to erase.

Among Majaivana's many songs are some classics that were not everyday songs but ceremonial songs that belonged to the central and secretive rituals of the annual rituals, songs that were fetish and some of them taboo. It has been Majaivana's contribution to history and culture that the treasured songs remain alive today.

The way the classic song Rivers of Babylon is venerated in Jewish history as it reminds the Jews of their exile and suffering in Babylon, the song "Sayiwela" as adapted and deployed by Lovemore Majaivana invokes passionate and sometimes pathetic Ndebele sentiments. Similar to the traditional song "Sawela Utshangane" that describes the death and disappearance of King Lobhengula, "Sayiwela" describes the journeys of the people and recalls their shifting fortunes. It was not an accident but a cultural and political design when Lovemore Majaivana dedicated the song "Tshilamoya" to Highlanders Football Club, a song that celebrates the team and recounts the legendary names of some players. For his cultural, political and spiritual relevance, Lovemore Majaivana himself, like Highlanders Football Club, was elevated to a living cultural and political monument. Songs like "Ulenkani" and "Abasithengisayo" were central in motivating guerrillas during Zimbabwe's liberation struggle. A close study of the music of Lovemore Majaivana reveals not just a simple musician, and entertainer but a historian and storyteller of note.

Artisanally Majaivana weaved Ndebele proverbs, allegories and idioms into his songs making them rich scripts of history and culture. On stage, true to the Majaivana title, Majee displayed fancy footwork that mixed ingquzu, bits of the Zulu indlamu and other styles.

While adopting and using modern musical instruments, Lovemore Majaivana is one of the few Zimbabwean and African musicians that resisted the temptation to overly westernise their music. The song "Umkhwenyana" particularly bemoans how modern day sons-in- law are required to perpetually provide modern niceties like sugar, money and other valuables for their demanding in-laws, it is a song that satirises the intrusion of Western tastes in habits. It  is one of the songs that bemoans and satirises cultural decline and degeneration in a fast changing world. Social justice and distributive justice are some of the calls of Majaivana's music, in one song he sang "Kuyavutha, kuyatshisa phansi emgodini, bayamemeza bayamemeza, bayamemeza abantu abamnyama" bemoaning the suffering of black peoples that were suffocating underground as they mined for gold in their servitude to the white oppressor.

Knowing fully well his position and role as the people's poet and storyteller, Majaivana never stopped his veneration of Bulawayo as KoNtuthuziyathunqa as the city is affectionately called.

Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from South Africa:

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